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A voice from his past

Posted Sep 23, 2010

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers used to get the play calls in his helmet transmitter from Charlie Whitehurst. But Whitehurst is now with the Seahawks, who host the Chargers on Sunday.

Philip Rivers not only admits to hearing voices, the one he remembers most belongs to Charlie Whitehurst.

These former teammates, and still friends, will be on opposite sidelines at Qwest Field on Sunday – Rivers as the San Diego Chargers’ Pro Bowl quarterback; Whitehurst as the backup to Matt Hasselbeck with the Seahawks.

But it was just last season that the last voice Rivers would hear before each play was Whitehurst’s.

“He obviously called the plays in to me through the headset all four years he was here, so he was the voice I heard,” Rivers said this week during a telephone interview. “He and I had to be on the same page and communicate really well, and we did.

“Charlie and I talk a lot alike, being from the South. We think a lot alike, really. So it was just kind of a perfect fit.”

These drawl brothers were separated in March, when the Chargers traded Whitehurst to the Seahawks. But Rivers was hearing that familiar voice even then.

“I was actually on the phone with Charlie a few times as it was all going down,” Rivers said. “Not necessarily hashing it out, just kind of keeping up. I was excited for him to get the opportunity.”

While Whitehurst still has yet to step into his first throw in a regular-season game, he is a step closer because of his trade to the Seahawks.

“He’s a play away from being in there now, unlike when he was here – he was two guys away,” Rivers said.

That stint as the voice in Rivers’ helmet helped prepare Whitehurst for the day when he does get the chance to launch that first pass in a regular-season game.

“That was a lot of fun,” Whitehurst said. “It kind of kept me in the game.”

More than most No. 3 QBs. It is a rarity that the inactive quarterback gets to be that involved in what’s actually transpiring on the field.

Chargers coach Norv Turner did the same thing in Washington with Trent Green and Brad Johnson in Minnesota.

“The one thing that Trent said when he left, and I saw in an interview, he said, ‘I couldn’t ask for a better preparation. Even though I wasn’t playing, I was signaling and calling the plays in that Norv gave me and you almost feel like you’re playing.’ It’s a good process,” Turner said.

“I saw Charlie as being as physically gifted as those guys and what happened with those guys is they need a chance to play and they need an opportunity to go play.”

And, they were better prepared to play because of their expanded role when they were the No. 3 QB.

“I learned a lot doing it,” Whitehurst said. “I got to stand next to Norv and hear every word he said for three years. It was a good learning experience. He’s a funny guy out there on game day.

“It was nice to kind of have that with Philip. I thought it was pretty cool.”

Rivers now thinks it’s pretty cool that Whitehurst – who he refers to as “a good buddy” – has a better chance to eventually play.

“I think he’s going to be a heckuva player; he is a heckuva player,” Rivers said. “He’s just looking for the opportunity.”

His opportunity to help the Seahawks this week is coming from running the Chargers’ offense on the scout team in practice. The defense definitely is getting an accurate look at what’s coming on Sunday – the seven-step drops that allow Rivers’ receiver the time needed to run deeper routes; the screen passes to his backs; the when-in-doubt throws to Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates.

“That will be good for our defense,” he said. “Maybe I can explain a little bit of it. But it is tough. You have to be careful – they have been careful – not to rely too much on that. You give them just little details that fit.”

Whitehurst expects this Sunday to be different. While he’ll be on the Seahawks’ sideline, his former teammates – and still friends – will be across the field.

“It happens kind of fast when you change teams,” Whitehurst said. “All of sudden, you’re somewhere else. I’m really excited about being here. But there are some friendships still, and it will be good to see them.”